This is the 27th MLK race , making it one of the oldest 5ks in Columbia. It’s typically held in January on MLK day weekend, though I always remember my first time doing this race, when it was postponed until June. It was brutally hot and I died a thousand deaths, producing one of my early race faces for the ages:
Savor that beauty for a second.
Despite the ugliness, I’ve always liked this race because its relatively small, local, and put on by a fraternity (Alpha Phi Alpha) who always provides plenty of volunteers and enthusiasm. One of the knocks against MLK was “the hill”. As in, lets put the start line at the foot of one of the steepest mountains in the 5 points/Shandon area. If you weren’t sucking wind like there’s no tomorrow a quarter mile in, you were good. Luckily Selwyn and the Strictly running crew stepped in this year and take control of most aspects of the race, including a new “flat and fast” course courtesy of Liz Locke that took out the mountain.
This was definitely a plus, though it most be noted that the course still ran up into Shandon and back, so it just made the climb a lot more gradual. Most of the incline would be the Blossom/King section that it shares with Get to the Green. Still, this long, gradual hill still beat the hell out of the quad crusher of the old course.
I decided I would give this race a full effort. I did Race for Life last week in 20:16 at about 85-90 percent and it felt pretty good. Hamstring is slowly coming around though definitely not back to its typical freakish strength. You gotta have body builder legs if you’re going to carry around 30 pounds more than your racing peers.
Pulled up to the race site my typical hour in advance to scope the field. Already crawling with beasts. This is a Tour de Columbia event and used to be on the Palmetto Grand Prix, so it has historically has been packed with seriously fast peeps despite its small size. This year was no different. Jordan Lybrand was there presumably to take the win. Erin Suttman, Angel Manuel, both Brandenburgs, Randy Hrechko, Gregory Jones, and Robbie “OG” McClendon would probably be in my neighborhood. Mike Compton, Roy and Ryan Shelley, Brigitte Smith, Alex Ponomarev, John Gasque, Albert Anderson, Henry Holt, Rocky Soderberg, Pam Griffin, Debbie McCauley and Maria Huff were some of the familiar (and fast) faces I saw just warming up. Naomi Rabon was making a rare running appearance. It was good to see Peter Mugglestone back from a recent health scare. Sadly, Pete Poore broke his streak of 26 consecutive MLKs with a case of bronchitis. No Trophies or Codes were to be found, though plenty of other 40 somethings to make this a brutal masters showdown.
Having no sense for restraint or humility, I toed the line at the front. The start was now right in front of Group Therapy, site of one of Five Points’ most legendary dive bars and ground central for Blue Shoes’ bad decision making in the mid 90’s. Speaking of bad decisions, I immediately got caught up in going too hard, too fast. Shocker. First half mile is a loop around MLK park, so definitely nice and flat. After going into oxygen debt within 100 meters, I decided to hang back a bit, ever fearful of a repeat case of the Bayler’s Bash walksies. Luckily, a six foot five filthy mouthed Body Pump instructor, better known as Randy Hrechko, was just in front. Although I am considerably wider, he is one of the few people I can draft off with his height. With both of us wearing a grey run hard shirt, I’m sure we looked like a set of freakishly tall running twins.
After the MLK loop is a nice flat and straight stretch on Harden Street through the heart of 5 points. I could see Jordan and Trey McCain locked into an epic two man battle way in front. Just ahead of me, somewhat obscured by a Hrechko eclipse, were Angel, Brandenburg, and Erin. OK… just try and stay with these guys. Mile 1 is right before the turn onto Blossom near bar none, another mid 90’s Blue Shoe landmark. Hit it in 6:20, which, given my current fitness and injury, was too damn fast.
This was none more evident as we hit the Blossom street/King Street combo of hills. Just dying. I briefly charged up ahead of Randy before the whole oxygen thing started to be a problem. The pain was only worse when you finally summit Mt. Blossom only to get a kick in the chest from the King Street hill. Things finally level out at Hand Middle which was nice. I heard someone shout at me from far away and I swear I was having a Code Brown hallucination, which has since been verified as real. Somehow in my oversized cranium I had convinced myself it was a quick loop in Shandon. This was not the case. Heyward Street is a lot further down King than it looks like on paper. I forget these USATF maps are not to scale. Damn you, Liz.
The turnaround is only one block and we were headed back home. Mile 2 was an ugly 6:43 positive split. Just bleeding seconds everywhere. I tried to pick it up some but the lungs were vetoing that bad decision. At least the gimp hamstring was looser though. Randy used this opportunity to gap me a little but even my pride couldn’t respond. Looks like I’d be dying a thousand more deaths today. At least it was flat all the way to Lee street. I had thought Lee was a total freefall down to the finish, but my pre-race warmup confirmed there is a nasty little hill hidden back there. We make the turn on to Lee and Hrechko is holding strong. I have one last chance to take him on the surprise hill, but yeah, that’s just not happening. He actually ramps it up and overtakes Erin for a little bit, before she comes back and torches it down the hill. I’m flopping all over the place by the time I hit the finishing stretch, which is a freefall into MLK park. They have a great cheering section at the finish, but all I can hear is my own gasping and the taste of lung. Painfully, I see the last seconds of the 19’s fade away in front of me and I cross in 20:12. 7th overall, 2nd in age group and 4th masters.
Not super happy with this since I thought I’d get sub 20 easily. What’s worse is getting smoked by Brandenburg and his dog. I have to hand it to Randy – thought I’d catch him but he held me off.
Winning the race in an epic battle was Trey McCain, 2 seconds over Jordan. Looking at Sarah Blake’s race photos, it came down to the last 50 meters. Third overall went to the front of our pack, with Angel kicking it in to get 19:41. Erin took 1st female by a few minutes, with Naomi taking an impressive second. She credits her recent half marathon training and neighborhood hills. Sonya Green-Sumpter, who brutally blue shoed me at the 2013 Race for Life, took 3rd. Freaks like me never forget.
In the age groups, Ryan Shelley took 2nd in the 11-14 in a battle with Hugh Willcox. Jordan won the 25-29 since they only went 1 deep in the overall. Makenzie Wilson won the 25-29 women. New CRC’er Deirdre Maldonado won the 30-34 women. Naomi and Maria Huff went 1st and 3rd in the 35-39.
Brandi Bradley took 3rd in the 40-44. Angel and the Sasquatch went 1-2 among the men. JB, Randy and Jonathan Kirkwood swept the 45-49, the fastest age group of the day. Barb Brandenburg and Shelley Hinson went 1-2 among the women. Pam Griffin and Mickie Ishizue won the top 2 spots in the 50-54. Gregory Jones Sr. is on his way back with a win in the 55-59. Alsena Edwards was champ of the 55-59 women. Robbie McClendon and Mike Compton battled it out for the top 2 of the 60-64, with Lynn Grimes winning the women’s division. Brigitte Smith was the 65-69 winner, while Albert Anderson and Alex Ponomarev won among the men. Arnold Floyd, Peter Mugglestone and Rocky Soderberg swept the 70-74, while Henry Holt and Jose Grant won the 75-98, both age 80!